April 2019 Article for Clare People

The True Meaning of Lent & Easter


Ash Wednesday is a landmark occasion, a day that marks a time of new beginning and fresh start. Lent in its original meaning is a time of spiritual training for 40 days or so in preparation for Easter. Prayer, fasting and helping the poor are the traditional disciplines of this period. Many people mark the time as renewal of different sorts by embarking on diets, fitness regimes and various health improvements. Spring cleaning, review and reform of old habits are the order of the day.


Whatever the motive, be it ulterior, self-centred, altruistic or otherwise it may be helpful to revisit the original focus as these disciplines are common to the major world religions and are universally recognised as beneficial for mind, body and spirit.


Benefits of Prayerful living

One of the news items in early Lent was a concern for the apparent decline in mental health in Ireland with an alarming increase in the taking of prescription drugs, due to stress and depression.  Research has shown that the benefits of regular prayer, meditation and ongoing reflection can help to lift us beyond many subjective challenges and pressures that can enslave us and depress our spirits.


Feasting or Fasting

The idea of sacrifice and depriving oneself of routine and readily available pleasures of the world is not popular in the culture we live in. Feasting on the many hedonistic opportunities gain more traction than the more challenging options of self-discipline and sacrifice.  Anyone involved in sport will readily subscribe to the principle of “no pain – no gain” and realise the obvious benefits and are readily transferable to many aspects of life, spiritual and otherwise.


Generosity to the Poor

Since coming to Clare I’ve been amazed at the commitment and generosity to worthy and noble causes, local and abroad, secular and religious.  So many events, sponsored walks, runs, cycles, sleep-outs, all sorts of charity events animate the social calendar of the area and attract huge support and financial aid to many humanitarian and altruistic causes.  The multitude and variety of such events display an outstanding generosity, compassion, love and care.  From the Christian perspective, the way we treat the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised, the sick, the elderly, the unborn, those with special needs is a measure of how civilised we are as a society. Lent is a time that we give more attention to such, with the iconic Trócairebox being a feature of life for almost half a century contributing millions each year to many excellent projects world-wide.


The issues of poverty, homelessness, begging, rough-sleeping, people with addictions on the streets has become a huge concern in recent times at local and national level.


Many different groups, charity, religious and state supported – do tremendous work to alleviate poverty and help people in need live with the dignity which is their due. Organisations like the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland, St Vincent de Paul, Simon, Clarecare, County Councils and other groups lead the way in the fight for justice and the elimination of the scourge of poverty, that in the words of Jesus will always be with us. There is so much being done in this area, but to paraphrase the political cliché more to be done!



What Easter means to different people?

Easter means different things for different people, holidays, commemorative events, Easter eggs, feasting after fasting.  Religiously, Easter is a time of liberation, a time of Exodus, a time of celebrating the Paschal Mystery of our faith, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who came so that we might have life and have it to the full.  The time of preparation, the Lenten time of prayer, fasting & almsgiving is traditionally a time to hone our senses to be able to tune into that.  I wonder how much we have retained that link?  Perhaps we have?  Even if not – no good deed, or positive effort, even if done for personal gain surely goes astray?  Keep up the Lenten efforts!  A happy Easter to all readers for when it comes in two weeks time!